tv Titans at the Table Bloomberg December 6, 2014 10:00am-10:31am EST
>> tonight, on titans at the table. >> are you a history buff? >> i'm more of a making money breath. i will be talking with bob benmosche, former chief executive of aig. i traveled through croatia to spend time with this retired it tighten. -- wall street titan. >> there are not many views like this in the world. >> when you come here to you instantly relax? >> at his vineyard. he recounts how he turns around the company left four dead. -- dead. >> you thought i had a company worth zero dollars. a is, the market value of almost $80 billion. >> all dealing with a very personal struggle.
illness they told me , i had nine months or a year to live. they put me on this aggressive chemotherapy because i said i have an obligation to resign if i cannot handle the chemotherapy. >> robert was born in brooklyn in 1934. early in his childhood his father moved the family to the catskill mountains, but shortly afterwards, his father died of a heart attack, leaving his mother and three other siblings a quarter of a million dollars in debt and with a half completed hotel. from there, money, having enough of it, became a driving force in benmosche's life. soon after graduating from alfred university, he rose up the ranks of wall street's biggest firms, chase manhattan and metlife, where he became ceo. it was in 2009, three years after he retired from metlife, that he took on his biggest job yet -- turning around the ship at aig.
it was in croatia where he accepted the job that would turn him into a key player in the financial crisis, and, at times, one of its most hated characters. during a boat ride along the adriatic coast, benmosche, now retired, explained how he fell in love with the country years ago when visiting with a group of colleagues. -- in weber cali can >> we came -- painewebber colleagues. >> we came here in 1987 with about 250 people and 125 producers. >> this is the reward. >> they all thought it was a joke. and then they came here and said that this is unbelievable. i decided, in 2000, after the war with serbia, i would see if i could buy a vineyard. >> in 2006, he did just that. he bought two plots of land. today, the 12 acres bear fruit and olives.
it was fruit harvest season when we went, and he invited me to tag along as he checked the grapes with his staff. >> it looks like we will salvage a little something from this terrible season. >> it was here in 2009 when he started getting calls from people like jim in treasury to -- jim milstein in treasury and hank greenberg to come back and take over aig. while postwar life in the area was serene, the u.s. was in a violent financial storm. >> it is a lot easier to run a vineyard than it is to run aig. >> walk me through what happened in croatia when you decided to go back. >> i thought that if aig failed, first and foremost, the insurance industry would never be the same. and i'm a big shareholder at metlife. the first thought i had was of metlife. and it would be in big trouble if aig failed because things are just going to unravel. that was my first thought. the second was that i thought it was bad for the country.
if america cannot show that it can fix its business problems and do it the right way, i thought it would be bad for meritocracy and capitalism. >> at the time, aig had just received one of the biggest government bailouts in history. $182 billion in exchange for a 92% stake in the company. aig had three ceos in 13 months. few thought it would survive. almost from the day he stepped in, benmosche started making headlines, flouting all conventions, including going on vacation right after he started the job. >> your grandpa is in big trouble because he left his job to come on vacation after two weeks. >> and calling lawmakers crazy. you said a lot of things at that time. can i name some of them? >> sure. >> you said you had bigger balls than the government. >> that was at a private meeting. so let me give you the context. what i said was, i know they can come after us, i know they think
they have a lot of balls, but the fact is i'm not worried about the size of mine. i will tell you that the government isn't going to tell me how to run this company. i'm going to tell you how to run this company. that's what they hired me for as the ceo. >> when you first accepted the job as ceo of aig, you said, look, i'm not going to work for one dollar. you would be paid $10.5 million, that was your ask. when you came back to aig, you did not need the money. >> i absolutely did not need the money. >> but you insisted on the pay. it set the precedent. from ceo on down, everyone should be paid what they are worth. >> absolutely, it is the on down. it is the message you are sending. we will pay competitively for a position. the team is about 3000 people. i need to make sure that my people have hope and opportunity but they will be paid competitively if we deliver a free and independent aig. i did not want my pay to be a cause celebre about pay being
too high. pay should be relative to your performance. the performance of your company and the value that you create for your owners. >> coming up, going to war over bonuses. >> we spent $100 million watching people that you paid $165 million to for the work that they did that they earned. you tell me, maybe i am wrong, maybe i am crazy. ♪
>> bob benmosche's fight over his own pay turned out to be a small battle compared to the full-on assault. he found himself at war with lawmakers, regulators, and the public over $165 million in bonuses to traders in the financial products unit, the same unit that almost sank aig. i just want to read a quote from david scott from georgia.
he said, "we are, in effect, at war." i am not sure what we are at war at. >> at war over the $165 million of bonuses. >> why weren't they at war at the $100 million that was spent between four firms to watch the people of aig work, to see if they are doing the right thing. whatever it is the congressman said, we spent $100 million watching people that you paid $165 million to for the work that they did that they earned. but you tell me, maybe i'm nuts. maybe i'm the crazy one. >> crazy, or at least crazy enough to quit. benmosche threatened to quit the job he just started if the bonuses were not awarded. you threatened to quit, didn't you? >> what i said is that i would announce my retirement in april of 2010. i did not quit. i said that i'm going to say that we are stabilized and it is time for me to move on, because
if i cannot commit to a compensation program that makes sense -- remember, people were asking me to pay in aig stock. and people of the administration and the government didn't think we could pay back the government. how much is the stock worth? nothing. >> worthless. >> so, why would you stay if something good comes along? >> and you paid in stock, right. benmosche did not step down and the bonuses were handed out. afterwards, most of the highest-paid executives agreed to give the money back. but the outrage over the bonuses and benmosche's $10.5 million compensation lingered. bob, can you understand the public frustration even now? the public frustration with pay? can you understand that point of view? >> i understand a part of it. but you have to understand, you gave me $10.5 million a year.
but at the end, you thought i had a company of zero value. zero. actually negative. and today the market cap, the market value, not the equity, the market value of aig is almost $80 billion. if i said to the american public i will create you an $80 billion company and give it back to you with a profit, but i want 1% or 2% of that, they would give it to me. >> americans don't see it that way, right? >> they do not understand what was created. they think somehow it gets created -- >> they think the rich are getting richer, that all the rich are enriching their friends. and that they get the shaft. >> what is sad is that in 2009, march, 2009, i took every penny that i had, every margin of
security i had, and i bet on the market. >> what are we talking about? >> i'm not going to discuss the numbers. no thank you. i did that. several americans did it too. they bet on this market. and guess what? it paid off. if you look at what happened in this five-year period of time, there has been huge growth. >> are you saying that a rising tide lifts all boats? >> what i am saying is that you have to take risks in life. and you will have to make a decision. if you take a risk and you win, you should not be blamed for winning, because the people who lose didn't do so well. >> coming up, what he found when he first opened aig's books. >> i didn't think it was that bad. the world thought they were worse than they really were. ♪
benmosche is less recognizable, but you couldn't tell on the streets of old dubrovnik, where people came up to the ceo to take photos. >> get a picture of me, too? >> he recalled the first time he took on the job with aig. when you first got your hands on the books, what was going on in the company? what did you see? >> well, i did not look in the books. i had a good idea of what was represented by what was in the books. because i spend a lot of time with jim milstein. and jim was the restructuring executive who was handling this for the u.s. treasury. and i spend a lot of time with sarah dahlgren, who was also handling it for the new york fed. they told me about the financials. i questioned them about the
financials. and my assumption was that they did their due diligence. >> when they briefed you on what was going on at aig and what they knew, were they better or worse than you thought? >> the world thought they were worse than they were. they were in line. >> you did not? >> i didn't think it was that bad. but it is a question of, if the outside world thinks it is that bad, i have to get you to stop talking about how bad it is. >> and bad it was. aig was expected to be broken up and it's best parts sold off. in 2009, then-treasury secretary tim geithner said he wanted aig just successful enough so the taxpayer can get out. benmosche had different plans. he was going to revive the company and pay the taxpayer back. did you ever think you might not? >> no, i did not think i could not get it done. when i looked at everything, i
could see that i could pay it back, and then what i said was, in september of 2009, i think what you are going to be left with is a $70 billion company. if you have $70 billion as your margin of error, there is no doubt. >> that was your back of the envelope. >> that was my back of the envelope calculation. i was wrong. it is $100 billion. and our market cap is $80 billion. >> when aig finally paid back the american taxpayers in 2012 with nearly a $23 billion profit, the company took out ads thanking the american people. >> thank you america. >> but benmosche felt the thank yous to him from government officials fell short. you had lunch with timothy geithner. was that the first time you had lunch with him? >> it was the only time i had lunch with him. they met with me when they
signed the deal that gave them 92% ownership of aig. the question was, how are we going to sell all the shares? if they had had lunch with me or saw me at the end of 2012, that would have been more meaningful. >> why? >> they should have said, what we put the people of aig through was horrific. and i want you to say on my behalf that we appreciate their hard work and that it is incredible what they have accomplished. and to not only pay us back, not only give us a $23 billion profit -- $22.7 billion, but you've kept all these americans employed or you kept them as effective citizens of our country. and we thank you for that. >> they never said that. >> they never said that. >> it almost sounds like you were looking for an apology. >> i think people should recognize they did a great job.
they did a great job under the worst of conditions. >> today, aig is a slimmed-down version of itself, and profitable. but does it still pose a threat to the financial system? >> i don't think another aig will happen. >> we are not going to see another aig crisis. >> no. i think we have been in this position for over two years. i don't think you will see a bank failure that we've seen. i don't think you will see a security industries failure like bear or lehman. right now. >> you give a thumbs up to the regulators. >> i give a thumbs up to the regulators for getting the job done, but i give them a thumbs down for being afraid to tell the public. i've criticized many people in washington at all levels. why don't you talk about how much progress you have made since 2008? their answer is, we are not sure something cannot go wrong. and i say, shame on you. because you should be sure.
>> how are you, bob? >> hi, betty. >> great to meet you. thank you so much for having me here. show me around your beautiful villa. in 2001, when benmosche was still the ceo of metlife, he began looking for a place to retire and settled on an old, abandoned villa. >> this whole space was a wreck. cracked tiles. and dirt. but i looked at the view and said, wow. there aren't very many views like this in the world. >> he and his wife bought the property for about $1 million
and spent millions more fixing it up. >> all i preserved was the outside walls. and every thing was built from inside. >> soaring on a cliff above the sea, it has 12 bathrooms, eight bedrooms, and three kitchens. it is aptly named villa splendid. when benmosche bought the place, he pictured himself relaxing in the garden, tending the grapes, and hosting parties with family and friends. what he did not expect was the terrible news that came in 2010. cancer. >> it is a terrible diagnosis. but one thing i learned in the life insurance business is everybody dies. we just aren't told a timeframe. and so you have this luxury of imagining that you're going to live many years beyond where today is. >> did the doctors say you have x number of years? you have x amount of time? in general for this illness, for this cancer? >> in general for this illness, i have nine months to a year to live is what i was told. >> that is what they said?
>> then they put me on aggressive chemotherapy. normally, you are supposed to get it over three days. i asked them to do it in a day. to see what effects it will have on me. because i said i have an obligation to resign if i can't handle it chemotherapy. >> three days in one. >> i did it monday. they said, ok, we can do it, but we don't like to do it. than we did a scan and it had no effect. >> they put him on an experimental treatment which did work. his one month prognosis stretched to three years. -- his 12 month you never prognosis stretched to three years. disclosed which cancer you had. will you ever? >> if i were comfortable disclosing it, and it would help people, i would. and so i don't want to give people, one, the concern that, geez, he's not going to be here long, because i have obviously beat those odds. and secondly, i don't want to be
able to tell people, i want to do what he did. because if they can work for him -- >> i want to know what medicine he is on. >> right. because it worked for him. there is no miracle drugs here. it is the pipeline that counts. i think it is premature to get into a conversation about it. >> but the treatment stopped working. >> they reset the clock nine months to a year. >> when? >> back in may. and the board and i met in april. and we said, look, i think you need to do some major changes in the organization. they were concerned about me changing the organization dramatically and then we announce a new ceo. give the new ceo chance to do that. and i said, that is great. we were thinking about the first quarter of next year. and i said, you know what, i'm not going to play the odds and changes have to be made now. not later. i said, let's accelerate my retirement. and the board was happy to do that. >> on september 1, 2014, he
turned over the ceo role to his chosen successor, peter hancock. the handover was smooth, quiet, hardly noted. a vast difference from the days when he took over. is there some sort of secret you can dispel to somebody who gets a diagnosis like that, but still is able to turn around a multibillion-dollar company? how do you do that when you are faced with a diagnosis like that? >> you have to focus on living. and believe me, there are times in my life that, had the diagnosis come and the consequence of death came, it would be devastating. had it happened in the middle of getting aig to a point that we completed the restructuring. completed the 92% ownership of shares to the u.s. government. that would have been devastating. it would have been devastating in 2005, when i was still getting this house finished and getting it ready for my
retirement. so, when you think about your death, think about what you have accomplished. if there's things that are worrying you about the legacy you leave behind, my father left behind a wife with four children, no will, a new motel, $250,000 in debt. that is a horrible legacy to leave your children and your wife. >> you didn't want to repeat history? >> i did not want to repeat history. >> that makes sense. were there moments where you sat down and thought about that? and went to a dark place? did you ever? >> i was never in a dark place. i felt the hardest thing is telling denise. then telling my son and my daughter. it was very hard on me and then close friends. to be able to say to them that, unfortunately, there's going to be a timeframe here.
and, but let's think about all the things we can celebrate of what we have already done. >> and done with the corporate world. now it is finally time to enjoy everything he has. >> my mother said, enjoy life when you are healthy. do not wait too long. >> but could you have enjoyed this 20 years ago? >> sure. >> the same way? >> no, i did not have as much money. [laughter] i know, it comes back to money. >> it comes back to money with you. ♪
♪ >> its building blocks are known worldwide. its brand is among the globe's most admired. it is the fastest-growing toymaker on the planet. we are at a company that less than a decade ago was losing a million dollars a day and is being transformed. >> it is going to be in the coming years a case study in how you turn around a company. >> we are going inside lego. >> awesome. >> ♪ everything is awesome >> the theme music for "the lego movie" could be the theme for the company itself. in february of this year, lego